Early Mayan pottery, such as the two bowls from Holmul and Uaxactum, rival for sophistication the tile paintings of the Chinese Han dynasty. The temple of the cross at Palenque and some of the buildings at Piedras Negras have great colored mural carvings in low relief as well composed as the plate from Holmul. The other plate, from Uaxactun, has an abstract quality in its lines like that of Chinese brushwork. The fine balance of its spaces rivals that of the best Greek pottery.
The lintel from Piedras Negras, perhaps the finest mural design of ancient American art, arises from hands as skilled as those that painted the two plates. The sculptor surpasses the painter here in his plausible indication of perspective depth, in the foreshortening of his figures, the naturalness of their poses, and the knowledge of anatomy.
The Copan Head
Rarely did the Mayan sculptors essay figures in the round. The Copan head of the maize goddess, carved in the 6th century, indicates by its sensitive modeling and its fine balance of decorative character and humane picturization, the highest degree of mastery achieved in the sculptor's art. In many respects this head has a Gothic and an archaic Greek quality. Unlike the art of the European sculptors, the indigenous art of America has a detached and impersonal repose comparable to that in most Buddhistic art. Prehistoric American sculpture as a whole lacks the sensual and emotional features that characterize the individualistic European creations. Like the art of the Egyptians, it is essentially religious and architectonic.